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Full text of "The Christian Profession : A sermon preached in the American Presbyterian Church, November 24th, 1867"

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American Presbyterian Church 

NOVEMBER 24th, 1867, 

By ZFLov. J". :0 . BOKTAR. 






Queen's University at Kingston 





American Presbyterian Church, 

NOVEMBER 24th, 1867, 

y Rev. J". IB. BONAR 






Let everyone that nameth the name of Chri3t depart from iniquity."— 2 Tim. ii, xii 

Roman Catholic missionaries have often been accus- 
ed of lowering the standard of Christ's requirements in 
order to multiply the number of their converts. It is 
said, that Francois Xavier, who, in the course of a few 
years, baptized hundreds of thousands in India, China 
and Japan, allowed the converts to worship their old idols 
under new names, and required of them no change 
in their principles of action or modes of life. In 
other instances, men have been baptized and admitted 
to all the privileges of the Christian Church, while con- 
tinuing to uphold poligamy and slavery, and to live like 
the heathen around them. The requirements of mis- 
sionaries have differed in different ages, countries, and 
circumstances. Even in nominally Christian countries, 
different Protestant communions attach very differ- 
ent ideas to the meaning of a profession of Christianity. 
In the state churches of Germany and Great Britain, 
every adult person, who has been unconvicted of an of- 
fence punishable by the laws of the country, has a legal 
right to the ordinances of the Christian church. In 
some churches, every person who chooses, receives, with- 
out question, the emblems of the Lord's broken body 
and shed blood ; in others, a life of at least respectable 
morality is required; and in others still, a certain degree 
of knowledge seems to be the main requisite. There is 
a still wider difference, in the opinions and actions of 
individuals in reference to this important matter. 
In even the purest churches, there are those who 
seem to regard a profession of religion as only a decent 
and becoming form, involving few responsibilities, and 
implying no great change of life, or other radical dis- 
tinction between those who make and those who neglect 
it. There are some who regard it as such a saving or- 
dinance that it compensates for the neglect of every other 

duty ; while others regard it as involving so much that 
they never dare to unite in it. 

The duty of making a profession of religion and 
commemorating the great fact of Christianity in the or- 
dinance of the Supper, is one that is universal, and 
universally admitted. No one who acknowledges the 
Bible as the Word of God, or recognises Christ's right to 
legislate, can deny this obligation. It is one of the 
most obvious of all our duties. But this obligation to 
profess religion implies a previous obligation to embrace 
it and to become a sincere Christian. It supposes 
certain qualifications as requisite on the part of those 
who make it. It also implies that they are under obli- 
gations to live on different principles and for other ob- 
jects, than those which govern men who reject and deny 
the Saviour. There are involved, in the very act of 
professing religion, certain great principles, which are 
the same in all ages and circumstances and which man 
has neither the right nor the power to change. 

There are two considerations which show the prime 
importance of correct views on this subject. One is, that 
a profession of religion is one of the most solemn and 
important facts in a man's life and history. Its vows 
are sacred and eternal ; its results are such as deeply 
to affect his whole destiny. It, moreover, puts him be- 
fore the world as a witness for Jesus, and as an exponent 
of the power and value of the Christian religion. 

The other consideration is, that his whole Chris- 
tian character and usefulness will be deeply colored and 
largely influenced by his views of the nature of this pro- 
fession. It is an undoubted and a lamentable fact, 
that many professing Christians add nothing to the 
church's strength. Some have very limited means of 
usefulness. Some, from the want of talent or education, 
are scarcely fitted to do good, except in the narrowest 
circles. But apart from those labouring under such dis- 
qualifications, the number of those who are the un- 
flinching advocates of truth and adherents to principle ; 

who sustain the ordinances of religion and institutions 
of benevolence ; who can be depended on when a tide 
of worldliness and vanity sets in upon the church ; who 
labor with a zeal that never tires, an ardor that never 
cools, and a charity that is never offended ; the number 
of such is comparatively small. Albert Barnes, a calm 
and judicious man, estimates them as about one fifth of 
those who profess love to Jesus. Part are zealous for a 
season, but their zeal disappears u like a morning cloud 
or the early dew." Part are characteristically indolent 
and self indulgent. Part become immersed in fashion 
and the strife for social position, when their influence 
as Christians expires, as a matter of course. Part be- 
come rich and are introduced into new circles, where 
their heads are turned and their attachment to Jesus 
is chilled. Part form new connections in life, when 
their ardor languishes, and it is shown, that their zeal 
at any time was the result of circumstances rather 
than of principle. Part become the victims of some pre- 
judice, which smothers all their Christian zeal and eats 
out, as with a poisonous tooth, all their Christian affec- 
tions. Part take their complexion, like the chamelion, 
from the objects and associations around them ; they 
are benevolent or lukewarm, zealous or conformed to the 
world, in proportion as their set are benevolent, luke- 
warm, or worldly. Now, of the whole number, a few 
are doubtless entire strangers to religion ; but the main 
reason, in my judgment, for this lamentable state of 
things lies in the low views, which largely prevail, of 
the principles involved in the organization of the church 
and implied in the profession of Christianity. This is 
the worm at the root of Christian piety, the loveliest 
plant which grows on earthly soil ! And hence, no more 
important question can be suggested for the consider- 
ation of the church, or of the individual professor, than 
this, and upon no one does it behove the Christian 
preacher to speak with greater caution or more fidelity ; 
what does a profession of religion involve, or what is it 
to be a disciple of Jesus Christ ? Let me, in dependence 
on divine grace, attempt to answer this question. 

Observe in general : 

" A Christian is the highest style of man." You 
may plaster the body with tinsel and teach it genteel 
manners ; you may store the mind with knowledge and 
educate it to exquisite taste ; you may make a man up- 
right and moral, a true friend and a kind neighbour • 
but even this falls vastly short of the Christian stan- 
dard. This is fashion's idol, without the soul of piety 
— the golden candlestick without the light — the frame, 
but not the picture. Do not misunderstand me ; it is 
well to be upright and moral. Morality is vastly im- 
portant. Without it, a man becomes like a tree with a 
hollow trunk, fair without, but with ants and reptiles 
and rotten wood within, ready to fall before the first 
tornado of temptation. Morality is important, yet moral 
principle is to Christian faith only what the dry chan- 
nel of the aqueduct is to the living fountain, that can 
fill it and supply the wants of thirsty thousands. 

Piety implies morality of the highest and purest 
kind. " Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," is 
the second of its two greatest commandments. Without 
this, piety is like a body that has been bled to death, or 
a frame from which the bones have been taken. Chris- 
tian piety implies morality, but it implies much more than 
this. It requires not only fair morals, but a renewed 
heart; not only just dealings with men, but truth and 
duty to the God of truth who reads the heart; not only 
integrity and justice and brotherly love, but faith and 
charity, humility and a holy conversation. " Do no man 
any wrong," is the behest of morality ; " Do all men 
good," is the command of religion. "Keep off the stains 
of vice," says the one ; " put on the robes, not only of 
virtue, but of holiness," says the other. Morality bids 
you, "pay your debts to your neighbour ;" religion urges 
you to " give to all men liberally ; accept as a bankrupt 
sinner, the free grace of God in Christ, and live as one 
who is bought with a price, no longer your own." 

It must be confessed, it would be a great thing to 

raise the mass of men to even this lower standard. They 
suffer themselves to be governed by their tastes and 
pleasures and prejudices, or by a soulless worldly poli- 
cy, until a slave-driver's whip and chains could not im- 
pose a more hopeless or degrading bondage. They have 
no higher aim in life than mere self-gratification. They 
can hate and envy, deceive and offend, riot and carouse, 
all within the limits of a morality that keeps their names 
out of the newspapers and their persons from the police 
courts. They drift through life with no more moral 
pilotage than is needful to escape the rapids of vice or 
the snags of the civil law. All that constitutes the dig- 
nity of the human soul — reflection, conscientiousness, 
loftiness of aim, soberness of purpose, attachment to prin- 
ciple — all are thrust aside to make room for reckless 
vanity, frivolous amusement, mercenary profit or social 
ambition. The soul is disfigured like an Indian's body 
tatooed for the war-dance. To say something amusing, 
however foolish ; to win some frivolous game ; to master 
the legerdemain of fashion ; to gain admission to some 
gay circle ; to amass a certain amount of money ; — this 
is the height of their aspirations — the apex of their 
loftiest ambitions. 

Now, it is vastly important, and it would be a 
great achievement, to raise such persons to a decent 
moral standard. Man, a moral being, ought to be sober 
enough to see that there is something serious in life — 
that it means more than an empty pageant, a reeling 
dance, or a profitable business, ending with an expensive 
funeral. " This valley of existence, bounded by the 
mountain ranges of an eternity past and an eternity to 
come, with only the gates of death and the bar of judg- 
ment for its outlets, this is not the place for an immortal 
being to doze and carouse, to jest, to strut, or to hoard 
money. The great heavens stretch themselves above 
us to afford scope for nobler employments than these. 
The soul itself, the wonder of creation's wonders, within 
whose grasp centuries are gathered and millions of 
memories stored, which is capable of knowing and en- 

joying the God that made it, and of filling more than an 
angel's sphere, this is too great and glorious a thing to 
be kicked about as the football of fashion, too capacious 
to be measured by the jester's standard," or satisfied 
with the accumulated savings of an Astor or a Rothschild. 
It is important therefore, that man should be moral. 

A man cannot be a Christian and be immoral. I 
say, a man cannot be a Christian and be immoral. He 
may be overtaken by faults and surprised into immoral 
acts ; but he cannot deliberately, knowingly, enter upon 
an immoral course, nor can he persevere in it, and be a 
Christian : the thing is an utter impossibility ; the mere 
supposition is dishonoring to God the Spirit who dwells 
in every disciple of Jesus. Christianity makes men 
moral : but it is not content with this. It demands and 
implies very much more than this, viz : — a radical change 
in the heart or principles of action. Its aim is loftier and 
more comprehensive than anything merely moral. It de- 
mands, to attain its object, the enlistment of all the 
powers of the soul and their consecration to one definite 
and noble object. 

But, to be more specific, a Christian profession 
implies, primarily, a humble acceptance of Christ's re- 
demption as the only ground of hope. It is a great 
sacrifice of pride to proclaim to the world that we have 
nothing in ourselves to arrest the descending stroke of 
divine justice, and that, as helpless suppliants, our only 
appeal is to sovereign mercy. The Christian profession 
implies this. It bears on its face the implication of a 
confession of the man's need, and a conviction of the 
Redeemer's preciousness and power to save. It implies 
that the person making it is a converted man — a sinner 
born again, with evidences of the fact which satisfy, 
not only his pastor and session, or committee, but his own 
mind and conscience, that, through grace, he is a child of 
God. It is a practical confession of self-renunciation and 
distrust, and of unqualified confidence in Jesus Christ. 

2. A profession of piety implies the determination 

and effort to subordinate passion, lust, prejudice, self, to 
the divine will. When a man takes upon himself the 
name of Christ, he, by that act, declares his determina- 
tion, to bring self into subjection to Jesus. As has 
well been said, " this is the only true mastery, for a 
man does not own himself until God owns him, and un- 
til that ownership is acknowledged. He is a slave to 
his baser nature. While a passion, against which reason 
revolts, domineers over him; while a prejudice, which 
reason cannot conquer nor conscience restrain, rules him, 
ke is Satan's bond -slave. No matter what form his sel- 
fishness may assume, he is ruled by a tyrant as vile as 
his own deformity." Now, a profession of religion is 
simply a proclamation of war against this tyrant ; and 
it is so understood by the world. Every professor of piety 
practically declares, not that he has gained the victory 
over self and Satan, but that he has turned his soul in- 
to a battlefield for God, and that he has resolved never 
to turn or flee until the victory is won. His presence 
at the communion-table proclaims him a sinner seeking 
deliverance— a soldier of Christ, animated by a loftier 
purpose than ever stirred the heart of Washington or 
Wallace, and engaged in a warfare more arduous and 
desperate than any waged by Wellington or Grant. It 
is easy to follow where inclination leads ; but it is hard 
and painful to persevere day by day, and month after 
month in a course directly opposed to inclination. It is 
easy to speak well of men, to feel kindly towards them, 
to exercise confidence in them, and to work harmoni- 
ously with them, when our wishes are consulted, and our 
opinions followed ; but it is a very different thing to do 
this when our opinions are lightly set aside, and our 
wishes wholly disregarded. In this there is a painful 
self-denial, as well as true nobility of soul. This is 
what is implied in the Christian life. A profession of 
religion is a deliberate and solemn declaration of our 
determination to enthrone God in the heart and to sub- 
due self — to follow Jesus and conquer inclination. It 
is an open acknowledgment of God's supremacy, of our 
obligations, and of our determination to strive to meet 


these* obligations. It implies a life of earnest self-deni- 
al. The person who is not prepared to enter upon this 
course, and to persevere in it, is not prepared to make 
a profession of piety. And, the professor ; who puts his 
own opinion above God's command, or consults his own 
inclination more than Christ's glory — he gives, in his 
life, the lie to his profession. 

3. A Christian profession implies a separation from 
the world. The New Testament every where insists 
upon this. It is uniformly taught, .that Christians should 
regard themselves a " peculiar people," and that a dis- 
tinct and definite line should be drawn between them 
and others. Despite all that you may see in the Church 
of the present, it is a great principle laid down for our 
guidance, that we are not to be conformed to the world. 
Neither in spirit, in purpose, in aim, in desire, in man- 
ner or style of living, nor in forms of amusement, are 
Christ's followers to be conformed to this world. A pro- 
fession of religion implies that we take upon our- 
selves all the laws of Jesus Christ, and this among 
others. Hence, the world expects the professor to be 
animated by a different spirit and governed by princi- 
ples other than their own. This expectation is reason- 
able ; it is well founded. 

The grand principle in the Bible is this : — on earth 
there are two great communities, which are quite dis- 
tinct in their organization, design, spirit, laws and des- 
tiny. The one is the Christian Church, which embraces 
all of every name and nation, who submit to the laws 
and embrace the hopes of the Gospel ; the other is that 
great community which the Bible calls the world. Each 
has its own spirit, purposes and aims. When a man pro- 
fesses religion, he virtually breaks away from the world, 
renouncing its peculiar spirit, temper and laws ; he 
identifies himself with the Church, accepting its laws 
along with its privileges, and devoting himself to its 
peculiar aims and objects. The world may be mercen- 
ary and selfish, or vain and unprincipled ; it may be 


gay and ostentatious ; in social life it may consider only 
its own pleasure ; in business it may be indifferent to all 
interests save its own ; it may make promises which it 
never means to keep, and hold out hopes only to deceive ; 
while pretending to be governed by principle, it may 
act habitually on policy ; it may make money its God, 
fashion its law-giver, self-will its pilot, and pleasure its 
port. The world may do all this, but woe to him who 
brings any of these into the Church of the living God ! 
When a man makes] ^profession of religion, he re- 
nounces all these to accept the laws of Christ. This 
profession implies that his sympathies and aims are with 
Jesus, and not with the world, whose God is self and 
whose law is policy. He' will not, if he be a Christian, 
he cannot live and act as other men do. He has a spirit 
and temper above those which influence them, as well 
as motives, consolations and hopes of which they are ig- 
norant. He walks among men, the citizen of a better 
country, with purer laws and nobler aims than theirs. 
He has food to eat, of which they know not — food 
which takes away his appetite for their beggarly husks 
and unsatisfying pleasures. The one fact of re-genera- 
tion makes a tremendous difference ; it opens between the 
Christian and the man of this world, a gulf wide as that 
which lay between Lazarus and Dives, across which 
even Lazarus could not pass. The Christian profession 
implies, not only the existence, but the practical recog- 
nition of this gulf. 

4. The abandonment, not only of positive evil, but 
of all that is or shall appear to be, inconsistent with 
the prosecution of a Christian life, is implied in a pro- 
fession of piety. If a person has been intemperate or 
profane, dishonest, untruthful or censorious, ill-temper- 
ed or ungenerous, his profession implies the abandon- 
ment of these evils, and his determination to conquer 
them. He may once, and again, and again, be overtaken 
by these faults ; but his honest purpose and life-long en- 
deavour is to abandon them. His profession implies 


this, and more than this. When Saul of Tarsus was 
converted, he gave up all his chosen plans of life to fol- 
low Jesus. In Ephesus, there were converted, men who 
practised curious arts as a means of living ; but they 
promptly burned their books and sacrificed their capital 
along with their business. A profession of piety im- 
plies that a man has made Christ's will and his own 
sanctification his ruling object in life. Whatever inter- 
feres with this is to be sacrificed. There may be no- 
thing positively wrong in it, nor any precept directed 
against it ; but if it has a deadening influence upon his 
piety, if it in any way hinders his progress in righteous- 
ness, then it is implied that he will abandon it. The 
person who is not prepared to do this, is not prepared 
for membership either in the church on earth or the 
church in heaven. 

5. A Christian profession, further implies a settled 
purpose to do our whole duty so far as God shall make 
it known to us. Religion is doing the will of God, as 
revealed to us by His Word and Spirit ; he who professes 
it, simply declares his intention to obey that will, and 
not his own. This purpose extends to all the relations 
and duties of life — to the intention to be a Christian and 
act like a Christian in every position, place and circum- 
stance. It declares that in all things, great and small, 
it is our solemn design and settled purpose to act as 
Jesus would have done in our place. A Christian life 
implies a thorough consecration to a holy service. To fol- 
low the plough, to serve at the counter, to watch our 
children, to sweep the streets, is a holy employment, 
done to honor Him who imposes it. Our profession im- 
plies that, with a holy purpose in everything, we shall 
strive to obey God's will, turning every duty into a 
prayer, every blessing into a note of praise, and every 
hardship a step by which to climb nearer to God. It 
implies that we shall strive to make our whole life an 
act of service, and an act of worship, as well as a path 
to heaven, and a ladder by which to climb to God, 


6. A Christian profession, also, implies that those, 
who make it, intend to be the warm and decided friends 
of every plan and effort for God's glory and man's well- 
being. It implies that they will positively befriend, 
and, up to their ability, actively assist in every enterprise 
which seeks to make men happier here, or prepare them 
for blessedness in heaven. They will, not only give for 
these objects, but they will give more largely than men 
who are not Christians. They will, not only not join with 
the foes of the church in opposing plans of usefulness, 
in exaggerating the faults and imperfections of Chris- 
tian laborers, in throwing obstacles in their way, frus- 
trating their plans, weakening their influence, and burd- 
ening their hearts ; but they will strive to remedy de- 
fects, to excuse faults, to remove obstacles and discour- 
agement and to extend their usefulness. Every Chris- 
tian minister, missionary, Sunday School teacher, has a 
positive right to calculate on the warm sympathy, the 
kindly forbearance, the decided and active support of all 
who profess to love the Saviour. If they withhold this, 
where is he to look for sympathy, support and co-opera- 
tion ? Jesus loved all men ; he went about doing good ; 
he instituted the church and commissioned its officers to 
seek the present and future well-being of men ; yea, more 
than this, he sacrificed himself for this object. A Chris- 
tian profession implies, that he who makes it, sympathizes 
with Jesus in his mission for the lost, and is as ready to 
sacrifice his time and property, his opinions and feelings 
for this object, as Christ was to sacrifice himself. We 
are assured on the best of authority that there is no 
genuine love to God where there is not love to man. 
Hence, it is reasonable to expect that those, who profess 
Christianity, will be earnest workers and steady support- 
ers of every wise religious and benevolent enterprise. 
If their profession means anything it certainly means 

7th. , Finally, Christians have very much in com- 
mon — much more than they ever can have with any of 
those who .are of the world. They trust in the one 


God and love the same Saviour. They have similar 
temptations, trials and difficulties, as well as duties, 
consolations and hopes. They are all members of one 
family, travelling to the same eternal home, confiding 
in the same mercy, and dependent upon the same grace. 
They are all one in Christ Jesus. And hence, a profes- 
sion of piety implies kindness, forbearance, charity, 
sympathy and all kindly dispositions towards their fel- 
low-professors. In ancient times, it was said, "See, how 
these Christians love one another." It must not be for- 
gotten that the same thing is still required, and implied 
in the very profession of Christianity. In making 
this profession, we enter that community, the law of 
which is, that no one is to seek his own, but every man 
the others' welfare. " By this shall all men know that 
ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another/' 

If these views on this important subject be correct, 
as they undoubtedly are, then a profession of piety is 
very much more than a decent form and a becoming 
ceremony. It implies conscious imperfection and sinful- 
ness on the part of those who make it, along with the ar- 
dent desire and decided effort to attain perfection 
through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Perfection 
is the Christian's goal and the Christian's ambition. 
There are failures, discouragements and fears, with nu- 
merous errors and backslidings. But, to him who com- 
prehends what his profession means, and who holds it 
fast, firm unto the end, victory is certain — guaranteed 
by the Word of Him who cannot lie. " Fear not little 
flock : for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you 
the Kingdom." " I will never leave thee, nor forsake 
thee." There is an abundant call for earnestness, 
watchfulness and prayer ; but there is no room for de- 
spondency. li He is faithful who hath promised," and, 
" The Lord knoweth them that are his." 

It is the duty and the privilege of every person to 
make a profession of religion . From this there is no 


escape. Nothing can be more obvious than that every 
man should not only be, but profess to be, the friend of 
the God that made him, and of the Saviour that died to 
redeem him. The neglect or refusal to make this 
profession absolves from no duty, while it debars 
from unspeakable privileges. The non-professors pre- 
sent are under just the same obligations to love 
the Lord and live to His praise, as are the members of 
these two churches. The non-recognition, or practi- 
cal denial of these obligations only aggravates your 
guilt, as it is an open insult to the Lord that bought 
you. Yet this profession is not to be thoughtlessly or 
rashly made. We invite and urge you, in the name of 
the Lord, to come with us ; but only on these terms. 
We would have none profess piety except those who 
honestly believe that they have been born again, and 
whose settled purpose it is to make God's will the rule, 
and Christ's glory the end of their lives. We wish no 
others to be members of the Christian Church. 

Believe me, beloved friends, there is no other ob- 
ject worth living for, none so noble, none so blessed. To 
attain a fortune, or transact an extensive business, may 
for some men be a high aspiration ; for others, the repu- 
tation of talent, knowledge or benevolence ; for others 
an entrance to some social circle, or civic office; for 
others a respectable moral character : but he who, con- 
scious of his immortality, aspires to a Christian life and 
a Christlike character, aspires to something nobler and 
lovelier, than ever entered into the ambition of an Alex- 
ander or a Creosus. In view of the coming judgment 
and the near eternity, it is folly to live for aught else. 
My friends, everything summons you to this. From 
every page of nature as of Scripture ; from every day- 
break blushing with its beauty, and every night-fall 
which shows the stars marching in their brightness ; 
from a past all restless with painful search ; from a fu- 
ture whose experience we now and here, each hour 
determine 3 from the soul that never is born as it should 


be, till born into true relation to God ; from Sabbaths 
and from death-beds ; from the cross and the ascension ; 
from heaven that rings with the anthems of an unending 
jubilee ; from hell that heaves, as Christ portrays it, and 
ceaselessly tosses in the gloom of God's frown ; — from 
each alike, from all combined, comes the solemn admo- 
nition ; " ye are not your own ; for ye are bought 
with a price ; therefore glorify God in your bodies and 
spirits, which are God's." " Take up thy cross and 
follow me." " If any man love father or mother, wife 
or child, more than me, he is not Avorthy of me." 

May God, by his grace, bless to each the urgent 
lesson, and make it to all of us a message from the skies ; 
and unto Him be all the praise ! Amen.